WSESD Social Justice Committee Meeting Minutes


Attendance: Eva Nolan (EN), Robin Morgan (RMO),Tim Maciel (TM), Deborah Stanford (DS), Shaun Murphy (SM), Mike Kelliher, Mikaela Simms, Shannon Kelly, Hannah Parker

I. Call to Order / Introductions / Recognition of Visitors

The meeting was called to order at 10:06.

II. Clerk & minutes


III. Updates

Mike Kelliher gave an update on efforts to recruit a more diverse staff. The district has just launched an employee referral program. For certain positions, if an employee refers a candidate who doesn’t already work for the organization, and they end up being hired, the referring employee will receive a bonus: $250 at time of hiring and $250 after six months of employment. There have already been a couple of inquiries. As of today there are 38 open positions but not all are part of this referral program – it is reserved for positions which the leadership team has identified as difficult to fill.

The next initiative will be a “Grow Your Own” project that is designed to support classified staff – paraeducators or technicians – who are interested in becoming teachers. The District will sponsor five new people each year and assist them with tuition funding and guidance until they achieve their degree. This will be in collaboration with Greenfield Community College, Vermont Community Colleges, and Vermont State Colleges. Dual Enrollment Coordinator Rhonda Winegartner is assisting with this. Mr. Kelliher has also been in contact with the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation (VSAC) – they offer grants and low-cost forgivable loans. For most of the people that would have an interest in doing this, they would owe very little after completing their degree. This initiative will help with retention of paraprofessionals. As we move forward, we will have something to offer that other districts don’t have so it should also help with recruitment. Staff are already beginning to inquire about this.

Mikaela Simms added that there is also money coming from the state to assist people to become teachers. She knows some paraeducators of color who are interested and plans to use exit tickets at their upcoming meeting to find out who else is interested in doing this. Mr. Kelliher clarified that the district is able to provide up to the IRS limit of $5000 per candidate each year, adding five new candidates each year.

Hannah Parker expressed appreciation for this program. She noted that private schools are able to offer teaching roles to educators without a teaching degree or certification and that can lead to the loss of great paraeducators who want to move into teaching. She predicted that this program will have really positive outcomes.

Mr. Kelliher added that when teachers are hired who are not certified in this state, they have two years after employment begins to complete their certification. The administrative team is working on a program to help people complete that certification.

RMO asked if the guidance support could be available to more people beyond the five each year receiving direct fiscal support from the district, to help them access outside funding, get connected with a program and support them to complete it. Mr. Kelliher replied that they are working on the creation of a database to help people see what all the resources are. For the certification program, there will be internal staff members who can mentor people in completing their certification.

Mr. Kelliher also provided an update on the effort to partner with colleges with diverse student populations to recruit graduating teachers. They are working on building relationships with Boston University, American International College (AIC) in Springfield, Fitchburg State, Wooster State, Central Connecticut College, and University of Hartford. AIC for example has about 60% minority enrollment. The district is promoting open positions in the district directly to students through their school’s job boards, such as Handshake, and also building relationships with department heads. The hope is to find opportunities for district staff to present directly to these college students and explain whey they might want to consider working here, Ms. Simms provided an update on Diversity, Equity and Social Justice (DESJ) efforts in the schools. They were successful in being awarded two grants from the Vermont Community Foundation to be able to fund the creation of a mural at BUHS with Juniper Creative Arts. They did a t-shirt creation day with students earlier this year and it was a terrific experience. Students are being surveyed to see who is interested in participating. The mural will be painted on panels and hung on the exterior of the school building.

DESJ Teacher Leaders are gearing up for Black Lives Matter at School week to get teachers prepared to celebrate the principles of BLM with their students. The teacher leaders are reading and discussing 3 books: the Vermont Reads selection Last night at the Telegraph Club, Burnout, and The Most Costly Journey. They are considering the idea of Restorative Practices training for all the DESJ teacher leaders and working on making sure they all have the staff meeting time that they need. They are also talking about doing an equity professional development day in March.

TM asked how the DESJ teacher leaders are chosen. Ms Simms replied that they self-select. In the future there might be an application process, but right now it is a challenge to even get representation from each school.

TM asked how they approach reaching those teachers who are not already on board with this work? Ms. Simms replied that this work is done through the teacher leaders and that’s why it’s so important for them to be able to present at staff meetings. She would love to be able to have all the offerings at the March professional development day be social justice-related topics teachers could choose from.

Hannah Parker asked how new staff can be engaged in this work. BUHS has a lot of new staff members and they are absorbing so much information at once.

Ms. Simms agreed that it is a lot at once. On the first professional development day, she talked to teachers about all the social justice structures and resources that exist in our district. But that is part of the flood of new information and then there isn’t a follow up that’s just for new staff. She would like to create something that is a structure for them to continue working with their mentors on this, just for new staff.

EN asked how new teacher leaders are trained: Ms. Simms replied that they like to have new people identified in the spring so they can attend the May Retreat and overlap with the people leaving the role. Then there is an orientation in the fall and a fall retreat. The books they read together is also an opportunity for ongoing education for all teacher leaders.

IV. Wrapping up Resumes and CVs

EN noted that the administration has already begun providing resumes and answers to the diversity application questions for new hires, as was previously discussed by the committee. A discussion ensued about whether or not to make a motion at a WSESD Board meeting that this practice be continued. One reason for a motion would be to create a more permanent structure. RMO asked Mr. Kelliher to explain how administrative procedures are established or changed.

Mr. Kelliher shared that he is engaged in a long term project to update and codify processes and procedures to create a resource that the administrative team can rely on. This will include our processes for FMLA, ADA, and Workers Compensation. When they update and codify the procedure about hiring, it will include explicit direction for the superintendent’s office to provide a resume and responses to the diversity application questions to the Board when presenting someone for hire.He has heard the board’s priorities and is working to implement them. We want the admin team to feel supported and that they have guidelines. He also is focused on creating a basis for consistency across the different schools.

The committee will give an update about this at the next WSESD Board meeting.

Mr. Kelliher said he would be happy to share the procedure with this committee once it is written.

V. Discussion about creating Anti-Bias Guiding Principles

EN shared a resource from the San Lorenzo Unified School District in California. Educators and administrators in their district collaborated on a list of Anti-Bias Guiding Principles, which was then approved by their school board. It is a thoughtful and detailed document that reinforces morale for staff and accountability for the board.

A discussion ensued. Several committee members expressed appreciation for the document. RMO suggested offering this as a resource for our staff to develop their own guiding principles. She noted the importance of this type of work coming from the staff themselves rather than being imposed on them. DS agreed and said we can be inspired by examples from outside our district. SM said the complexity of the San Lorenzo district’s document could be a barrier and wondered if a less detailed document would be easier to integrate into teachers’ practices.

Ms. Simms explained that our district has already created their own guiding principles related to Diversity, Equity and Social Justice and they are available to view on the WSESU website. These were designed to be simple on purpose so they can encapsulate everything that our schools do.

Ms. Parker shared that during her time In Windham Central they had an all-staff bias training and it was really powerful.

EN clarified that the board’s role in this process is to acknowledge and be accountable to the educator-created principals. She said it would be powerful for the board to review their own social justice commitment at a meeting. RMO added that it could also be impactful for board members to all read and review the Guiding Principles that WSESU teachers have created.

TM suggested finding ways to include student voice in the process of creating principles such as these. Ms. Parker asked about opportunities for the students who participate in social justice groups at the elementary level and high schools to come together as a community to have a big student conversation about this. Ms. Simms clarified that there are student leadership teams at each school but they are not specifically focused on social justice. She does conduct field trips to connect the AWARE groups at the elementary and high schools. She said it would be very helpful for the board to make an explicit statement of support for these principles so that when there is any challenge that comes up with these concepts, people know that their job will not be in jeopardy. It’s good to have a commitment to these principles on record so that teachers feel safe in applying these within their classrooms.

SM spoke to the importance of recognizing bias in our community. DS: noted the importance of humility in dealing with this subject, and recognizing that everyone holds some kind of bias. She agreed with the importance of understanding the WSESU Diversity Guiding Principles and making a commitment to uphold them in a public space. RMO suggested that the board could read and express support for the WSESU Diversity Guiding Principles and also share the San Lorenzo document with the DESJ teacher leaders for them to discuss and see if they want to incorporate any of this into their principles or in some other way. DS agreed and added that just reading a statement once is not enough.

Ms Simms suggested that the board could revisit their Social Justice Committment at the beginning of each year. RMO added that the board could look at that in combination with the teacher-created Guiding Principles and make sure that all their principles are being supported.

DS suggested that this could be part of goal setting at our retreat.

VI. Next missions and goals to focus on.

EN said that the discussion about guiding principles can be continued at the next meeting.

VII. Adjourn

The meeting was adjourned at 11:33pm.

These minutes submitted by Robin Morgan

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